Many of our clients come to Blue Beyond asking for partnership with planning. Planning for a culture reboot. Planning to overhaul their recruitment and retention efforts. Planning to implement a new communication strategy. Planning to help them navigate a crisis. Planning a leadership offsite. But, one of our biggest requests centers around strategic planning and strategy development.
Many organizations have a systematic process for strategic planning but look back a year later and wonder “what happened?” According to research outlined in the Harvard Business Review, 85% of executive leadership teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy, and 50% spend no time at all. The research also reveals that, on average, 95% of a company’s employees don’t understand its strategy.
It turns out that a lot of people aren’t entirely clear what a strategy or strategic plan is. They confuse it with organizational goals, objectives, and motivational slogans and oftentimes end up creating an operational (the “when” and “where”) or business plan (“who” and “what”) instead of a strategic one. “We’re going to be the best” is a great rallying cry but it’s not a strategy.
The strategic plan gives you long-term goals and explains “how” your organization will gain a competitive advantage and be the best in your industry. It’s a long-term view. It provides a basis for monitoring progress, and for assessing results and impact. It facilitates new program development and enables your organization to look into the future in an orderly and systematic way. And, most importantly, it’s about grounding your organization in its mission, vision, and values.
With continued global volatility and inflationary pressures building in the marketplace, your organization’s strategic plan should be taking center stage as you move to mitigate potential impacts. Here are our strategic planning best practices to get you started.
Before you say “thank you Captain Obvious” hear us out. The first step of the strategic planning process is often the hardest. The fear of too many cooks in the kitchen is understandable; however, collaboration is at the center of a successful strategic planning process. Creating a strategic plan in a silo is a huge mistake. For a strategy to be successful, you need the right mix of people and it must be cross functional. This can include your board or leadership, finance, HR, operations, sales, marketing, etc.
It’s important to examine any potential biases that may impact the selection of your collaborators. A great question to challenge your unconscious biases is to ask yourself “who does this decision impact?” Answering that question helps you invite the right people to the table who can provide real insight into how you’re going to move forward. The more inclusive and collaborative your process, the more support you’ll have across a diverse set of stakeholders. It also helps ensure that your strategic plan accurately reflects your organization’s vision for the future.
Nobody needs another meeting on their calendar so schedule your check-ins and working sessions strategically based on what you’re needing to accomplish. Not everybody needs to be at all your meetings. Consider a stakeholder analysis and mapping session to ensure that you have the right representation of voices to move forward on your initiatives.
Next, create a reasonable timeline. If you’ve never done this work before, it could take up to six months. A refresh could take anywhere between four and five weeks. Because strategic planning focuses on the destination and how you’re going to get there, be prepared to spend extra time thinking about who you are and where you want to go as an organization.
Everyone makes assumptions and has preconceived notions about their organization. However, starting the planning process without gathering data will set you up to fail. Without data, it’s easy to create your own reality. Data keeps you honest and increases efficiency. Interpreting data can be uncomfortable – it’s hard not to feel like you’ve failed when the feedback and numbers are telling you that something went (or is) very wrong. But gathering and disseminating data isn’t just about your weak spots. It also allows you to wash, rinse, and repeat the areas of strength across your organization.
When gathering data, you’ll need to focus on two aspects: internal and external.
After collecting the data, it’s time to gather more data in the form of feedback. Talk to people. Host focus groups. Review the data you’ve gathered with leadership, industry experts, and your employees. If you don’t understand the why of the feedback, ASK. Take the pulse of your internal workforce. Using current data about existing policies and structures ensures you’re solving current problems.
There’s no better time to create or reaffirm your mission, vision, and values than during the strategic planning process. Mission, vision, and values form the foundation on which you’ll build the strategic framework. They direct and guide the purpose, principles, and values that govern the activities of the organization and communicate this purpose of your organization internally and externally.
What your organization does and how it’s different from competitors.
What your organization will look like in the future and what you want it to achieve in the long-run.
What your organization’s top priorities and core beliefs are.
How your organization strives to achieve its goals and measure success.
By identifying and understanding how mission, vision, and values interact with one another, your organization can create a well-designed and successful strategic plan that gives you a competitive advantage.
Transparency, more than anything, builds trust. If your stakeholders are going to buy into the plan, they need to trust you and trust the process. They also need to see how their ideas and inputs are being captured and shared through regular, transparent updates and communications. Don’t try to hide negative information and don’t make excuses for why something didn’t work.
It’s also critically important to acknowledge that you and your leadership teams may not have the tools, capabilities, or knowledge to understand the “how” of a particular move-forward strategy. Acknowledge it and ask for help. And when you do ask for help, listen.
Strategy execution is just as important as planning. This includes having a clear understanding of your capacity and the resources at your disposal, as well as determining the few priorities that will best help your organization achieve its goals.
Define your KPIs, keeping them simple and easy to measure. Try and look beyond revenue and money and don’t move the goalposts or ignore them. If you’re not hitting your targets, this could be a sign that your strategy has a broken link. Gather your internal champions for an immersive working session to father feedback and ensure that they understand and can articulate the vision. Setup training and have everyone, including your senior leadership team, take it.
GET YOUR EMPLOYEES INVOLVED. Sorry to yell but this is absolutely critical. Many organizations forget the human element in change and that different people have different ways of reacting to, and dealing with, a new direction. Successful change management is crucial to gaining buy-in. As we noted above, less than 5% of employees understand their company’s strategy. Is it any wonder employees have difficulty engaging in a strategy they don’t understand?
Change is difficult for everyone. It’s especially difficult for organizations that have been doing things the same way for a long time. Even more so if those ways were successful. But, changing demographics, social upheaval, and technological advances often necessitate major changes for an organization to remain relevant and competitive.
To ensure your strategic plan’s success, be willing to commit to letting go of outdated processes, policies, toxic cultures, and managerial styles. Then do it. Because change without action are just words on a piece of paper.
The last thing you want after completing a strategic plan is to have a document that sits on the shelf and gathers dust. Strategy is an iterative process and it will need to be rethought as your business and industry changes.
Creating and updating a strategic plan is essential for mission-driven organizations to stay strong, relevant, and effective, especially in today’s complex and ever-changing economic and political climate. Whether you’re establishing your vision and setting goals for the first time, or in need of a refresh, it’s always a wise idea to pause and consider where you want to be in the future, and how you need to get there.
Whether you’re in the midst of developing your strategic plan or you’re already communicating your strategy to the entire organization, Blue Beyond can help you translate your strategy into a successful, executable framework.